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The state of Illinois is the only state in the union that does not offer provisions for regular citizens – those who are not law enforcement or security guards – to carry a gun in public.
Last December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled that the ban is unconstitutional and gave the state 180 days to come up with an acceptable framework for citizen carry. Now, if the legislature and governor do not implement a plan by June 8 of this year, the laws banning carry will simply become null and void effectively giving the state “Constitutional Carry,” i.e. unregulated carrying such as currently exists in Vermont, Alaska and Arizona. Chances of that happening are slim; however, the journey from the current prohibition to the final system promises to be an interesting one.
Illinois citizens have been fighting for years for the right to carry legally. Several attempts in the past few years have come close, but each time it has been shot down by the Chicago-Cook County political gangsters. So the citizens in “downstate” Illinois – everywhere outside of the Chicago area, which is mostly stereotypical small-town middle America – have been held hostage by the powers that be in the state’s urban center.
In order to get at least some form of lawful defensive carry available to regular citizens, rights advocates in Illinois have worked diligently building coalitions, making concessions and agreeing to all manner of strict limitations, exorbitant fees and overbearing government control over a concealed-carry licensing system. Their hope was that once any form of concealed carry was authorized, citizens, police and politicians would see that legally armed citizens were a benefit, not a risk – just as has been proven in the other 49 states – and possibly the law could then be improved. That approach made sense when Chicago held all the cards, but times have changed. With the 7th Circuit’s decision, Illinois rights advocates are now in total control – or at least they should be.
Rather than taking advantage of the dramatic shift in leverage provided by the 7th Circuit’s ruling, leaders of the rights movement in the state seem to be stuck in the rut they’ve carved over the past 50 years. They have continued trying to curry favor with police groups and skeptical politicians, even though there is no advantage in doing so. In fact, the demands of the leading rights organizations in the state have barely shifted since the 7th Circuit’s decision was handed down. To their credit, rights supporters have drawn a line in the sand on “shall issue” (which requires authorities to issue a license to anyone who meets the statutory requirements) versus “may issue” (which gives local law enforcement discretion to deny a license for almost any reason – or no reason at all), but they continue to agree to excessive fees, extensive – and expensive – training requirements, intrusive and redundant background checks, and dangerous requirements such as a duty to alert police to one’s lawfully concealed firearm.
This last item is particularly troublesome for gun owners living in the Chicago area where the chief of police has declared that his officers will treat any armed person as a serious threat until the person can prove otherwise. That means the police are likely to draw their guns, put the person face-down on the ground, frisk, handcuff and detain him until they can find and verify the person’s carry permit – even when the only clue the police have that the person has a gun is that person’s obligatory statement to them that they are legally carrying.
A promise like that, from the police chief of a city known for police corruption, brutality and excessive force, is a seriously unsettling prospect for citizens contemplating lawful carry. Add in the current environment of increased fear and tension over the Boston Marathon bombing, the excessive force and disregard for constitutional protections demonstrated by authorities in the Boston area in the wake of that bombing (not to mention the citizens’ acceptance of those actions), and the demonization of gun owners as “right-wing radicals” and “anti-government extremists,” and it’s not hard to understand why Chicago citizens would prefer to keep their concealed weapons concealed – even from the police during routine traffic stops and casual contacts.
Looking into Illinois from the outside, it is unfathomable why rights leaders would make any concessions at all to their opponents in the legislature and the Governor’s Mansion. Those who oppose the right to carry in Illinois have three choices right now: 1) agree to a moderate public carry law, 2) see all carry prohibitions evaporate on June 8, or 3) appeal the decision of the 7th Circuit and hope the Supreme Court will hear the case and eventually overturn the Circuit’s decision.
Taking the question back to court is risky for the prohibitionists. Not only is there no guarantee that the Supreme Court will hear the case or rule in the hoplophobes’ favor, there is also the very real possibility that their carry ban would be nullified during the interim. That’s why the Illinois attorney general has shown no inclination to take that route.
After over 50 years of fighting for crumbs of liberty and getting nothing at all, rights advocates are now in a position to decide whether to give carry opponents a few crumbs or leave them with nothing at all.
Opponents of concealed carry are over a barrel, and the barrel is poised at the top of a cliff teetering on the brink of liberty. Rather than propping the barrel up and singing “Let’s Make a Deal,” rights advocates should be kicking out obstacles and singing “Roll Out the Barrel.” There is nothing to lose and everything to gain.